The Case for Christ: The Believing Scholar Point of View (Part 2: Other Evidences)

This is a continuation of my attempt to summarize the believing scholars interviewed in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. In my last post I summarized the internal Biblical evidences considered. In this post I’m going to look at the outside evidences.

A few points to consider. First, I have my own concerns with this book’s approach. I’m trying to not be critical of it yet, but to save that for later posts when I have presented enough alternative points of view to be able to look at the real strengths and weakness of the believing Christian arguments.

However, my criticism are more of the nature that these ‘proofs’ aren’t really proofs at all. I do, however, think they represent a fairly good ‘narrative fallacies’ that takes many data points and makes a good plausible story out of it and I suspect that is the most that could have been realistically asked of them. In short, I like these arguments even if I am fully aware they aren’t rationally coercive. So I think believing Mormons will be interested in much of what is presented in the book. Second, I admit that Lee Strobel is not a scholar. This seems to really bother some of the commenters on my last post. However, I would like for us to keep in mind that Lee Strobel is collecting interviews from some fairly good scholars. Does anyone really doubt that, for example, Craig Blomberg isn’t a good scholar? Third,  I feel less certain about this part of the argument than I did on the internal evidences, so don’t expect me to defend any of it in the comments just because I summarized it in the post.

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Language Unique to the Book of Mormon: “On The Morrow Month”

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

The Book of Mormon records that Giddianhi, the leader of the antagonist Gadianton Robbers, wrote a letter to Lachoneus, the leader of the protagonist Nephites, demanding that they relinquish all their property and join their cause. In his letter he gives an ultimatum:

“And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.”

It was a few years ago that the peculiarity of Giddianhi’s ultimatum really stood out to me for the first time.

As an English major with a particular interest in literature written before the 20th century, I had read a variety of texts from the Old English, Middle English, Renaissance, Early Modern,18th and 19th Century periods. At the time I had been reading a great deal of early American writing, often in the original spelling and grammar, which had been written between 1500 and 1860. I had just finished a handful of books published around the time when Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and the phrase “…on the morrow month…” in Giddianhi’s letter really stuck out as an unusual construction.

I wondered if “on the morrow month” was in common usage in the 19th century, when Joseph was translating the Nephite record, but had since fallen out of use. Or maybe it was a construction adapted from the Jacobean language of the King James Bible. I had never run into it in any of my other reading, so I started to investigate.

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The Forgotten Prohibition on Divorce

Marriage has been a moral and political subject for a very long time, while the practice goes back to ancient history. Discussions of who and how many can join together are found all over the place. The current hot topic asks the question if Mormon marriages are supposed to be equal or patriarchal authoritative. What hasn’t been talked about much is the equally growing number of marriage dissolution. Couples have been divorcing at greater numbers each year. This isn’t just the case outside the LDS Church, but within the Mormon community. Worse yet is an ever increasing rate of Temple Marriage sealings getting dissolved. The trend has become serious enough that LDS President made mention in the April 2011 General Conference of his concerns:

Now, brethren, I turn to another subject about which I feel impressed to address you. In the three years since I was sustained as President of the Church, I believe the saddest and most discouraging responsibility I have each week is the handling of cancellations of sealings. Each one was preceded by a joyous marriage in the house of the Lord, where a loving couple was beginning a new life together and looking forward to spending the rest of eternity with each other. And then months and years go by, and for one reason or another, love dies. It may be the result of financial problems, lack of communication, uncontrolled tempers, interference from in-laws, entanglement in sin. There are any number of reasons. In most cases divorce does not have to be the outcome.

The vast majority of requests for cancellations of sealings come from women who tried desperately to make a go of the marriage but who, in the final analysis, could not overcome the problems.

The high profile re-marriage of Marie Osmond to her first husband Stephen Craig is a small reminder of how fragile relationships seem to be for modern couples. Her choice will be commented on a bit later. Hopefully the second time around will last for the Eternal promise made in the LDS Temple vows. Why it didn’t work out the first time is a personal issue, but the failure is far from typical for too many. Multiple divorces and marriages are no longer associated mostly with the rich and high profile entertainers. The opinion of the Lord on this matter is not hard to find even if forgotten by the Saints. He would not be pleased. Continue reading

Service and Sacrifice: Mormon Spiritual Cornerstones

This is the fifth and final in a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. Readers can find the first here, the second here, the third here and the forth here. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and what that has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.

Many years ago I wondered what constituted a Mormon spiritual life. This pondering was brought about by critical comments that the LDS religion contained mostly materialistic emphasis of an Earthly Kingdom of God and rejection of spirit/body dualism. Usually this criticism comes from those who either believe in “Faith Only” salvation or spiritual matters should mostly be separate from secular concerns. Research on the subject has brought me to a conclusion that might sound too much like a truism than a profound discovery. Mormonism teaches that true spirituality comes from self-sacrifice in the service toward others.

Almost from the start, the concept of self-sacrifice as spiritual power has been a central Mormon teaching. What can be considered the first Priesthood manual stated:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

– Lectures on Faith, N.B. Lundwall Ed., pg 58.

The question is, to what end do we sacrifice? Continue reading

The Deuteronomists and the Suppression of Ancient Truths

In light of some insights I’ve gained from the Old Testament class I tutor for and comments on blog posts I’ve recently read, I’ve decided to post the following material on an important topic for our study of the Old Testament, and the Scriptures in general. This material is largely based on a previous post from my solo blog, Heavenly Ascents.
A question that I often run into when speaking to fellow Latter-day Saints and other Christians about the Bible is the matter of why the Old Testament seems to represent such a different religious perspective from the New Testament. More specifically, why does it seem that many of the doctrines that receive such emphasis in the New Testament (and that are fundamental for Christianity) seem so obscure or even virtually absent in the Old Testament? There are many reasons that can be offered for this problem, which can be a dilemma for any Christian, but perhaps even more so for Mormons, in light of our popular belief that the fundamental doctrines and practices of the Gospel are revealed anew in largely similar form in each dispensation from the beginning of time.
One of the main issues with the Old Testament in its final form (the form in which we have received it), and the religious views that it can be seen to represent, that is recognized by biblical scholars is the work of the so-called Deuteronomist(s) or Deuteronomic School on the text (and, as a result, the religious views) of the Hebrew Scriptures. This party (it was more likely a group than an individual), it is argued, was responsible for composing the Book of Deuteronomy (not in the time of Moses, but in the time of King Josiah, 7th century BC), and also the Deuteronomic History, comprising the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings (the principal account that we have of Israel’s history). It is also thought that this party edited the writings of the Pentateuch to fit their view of history and theology.
Doing their work well before the Babylonian Exile, the Deuteronomists seem to have been involved in the reforms of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22-23) and the Book of the Law that apparently served as inspiration for the reforms (2 Kgs 22:8-13) was likely the Book of Deuteronomy that they wrote (or perhaps heavily edited). These reform movements, which are not unique in history, served to ensure that the later theology of the more “mainstream” Jewish sects as well as many of the texts that form our Old Testament canon represented, in many ways, a significantly different belief system from the more ancient Israelite religion.